As the April 30 tax deadline draws ever closer, you still have an opportunity to make a difference for your clients before they file their 2012 returns, says Tim Cestnick, president of Waterstreet Group Inc. in Toronto.
“I think advisors would be smart to use this time of year as an opportunity to review a client’s portfolio,” Cestnick says, “and determine how they can add value.”
Cestnick, author of 101 Tax Secrets for Canadians, offers the following tips on helping your clients minimize their tax burden for 2012:
> Calculate cost-base
One of the biggest tax-related challenges for clients is tracking the adjusted cost base on their investments, Cestnick says.
For example, if your client holds units in a certain investment in various accounts, such as through an advisor and in a self-directed account, the adjusted cost base of that investment would have to be averaged out between the two accounts.
To make your client’s life a little simpler — and to show you are willing to go the extra mile on their behalf — take charge and track that value for your clients.
> Rebalance portfolios
April can be a good month to take a closer look at your clients’ portfolios to see how much taxable income their investments generated and what, if anything, you can do to reduce the amount of tax they will pay on portfolio income.
For example, consider whether rebalancing the portfolio or changing its asset mix would make sense. A simple, slight adjustment to a portfolio can create less interest income and more capital gains or dividend income, which can lower the tax payable.
“It’s a good time to look into this with your clients,” Cestnick says. “They will have it fresh in their minds how much tax they paid and will want to find ways to minimize the amount of tax their will pay.”
> Manage debt levels
The lead up to tax deadline is also a good time to talk to your clients about their debt.
One strategy, Cestnick says, is to look into a common debt swap. Say, for example, your client has a home mortgage — which is not tax deductible — and he or she also has $30,000 cash available. In this scenario, your client uses that cash to pay down the mortgage, then borrows the same amount and invests that money. Because the loan is now an investment loan, your client can claim a tax deduction for part of the interest, Cestnick says. In doing so, your clients reduce taxes without changing the debt level.
> Check interest income
Is your client earning too much interest income in non-registered investments?
Check the location of clients’ investments to ensure that more interest is being earned inside RRSPs and RRIFs and more capital gains are being accrued outside those plans.
> Comb for details
Ask your client for a copy of his or her tax return before they file.
Scour the document for any relevant deductions that might have been overlooked, such as transportation tax credits, home improvement claims or other tax credits.
Just make sure that your clients get everything filed before April 30.
This is the first instalment in a four-part series on the ways advisors can make a difference for their clients during tax season.
Tomorrow: Tax season’s “teachable moments.”